Undertow by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Up to this time it might have been said that the Bradleys had grasped their destiny, and controlled it with a high hand. Now their destiny grasped them, and they became its helpless prey. Neither Nancy nor Bert was at all conscious of this; in deciding to do just what all the other persons at the Gardens did, they merely felt that they were accepted, that they were a part at last of this wholly fascinating and desirable group.
At first it meant only that they went to the fortnightly dinner at the club, and danced, on alternate Saturday nights. Nancy danced exquisitely, even after her ten busy and tiring years, and Bert was always proud of her when he saw her dancing. The dances broke up very late; the Bradleys were reproached for going home at two o'clock. They both usually felt a little tired and jaded the next day, and not quite so ready to tramp with the children, or superintend brush fires or snow-shovelling as had once been their happy fashion.
But they were fresh and eager at four o'clock when Marlborough Gardens came in for tea by the fire, or when the telephone summoned them to some other fireside for tea. It rarely was tea; Nancy wondered that even the women did not care for tea. They sometimes drank it, and crunched cinnamon toast, after card parties, but on Saturdays and Sundays, when men were in the group, stronger drinks were the fashion, cocktails and highballs, or a bowl of punch. The Bradleys were charming people, Marlborough Gardens decided warm-heartedly; they had watched the pretty new- comer and her splashing, sturdy children, all through the first quiet summer--the children indeed, were all good friends already. The grown-ups followed suit,
Motor-cars began to come down the short lane that ended at the gate of Holly Court, and joyous and chattering men and women to come in to tea. Nancy loved this, and to see a group of men standing about his blazing logs filled Bert's heart with pride. It was rather demoralizing in a domestic sense, dinner was delayed, and their bedtime consequently delayed, and Dora, the cook was disgruntled at seven o'clock, when it was still impossible to set the dinner table. But Nancy, rather than disturb her guests, got a second servant, an enormous Irishwoman named Agnes, who carried the children off quietly for a supper in the kitchen, when tea- time callers came, and managed them far more easily than their mother could.
Before the second summer came Nancy had come to be ashamed of some of her economies that first summer. Taking the children informally across the back of the empty Somers' place, and letting them bathe on the deserted beach next to the club, wearing faded cottons, and picknicking as near as the Half Mile Light, seemed rather shabby performances. These things had seemed luxury a year ago, but she wondered now how she could have done them. Sometimes she reminded Bert of the much older times, of the oyster party and the hat- pins, or the terrible summer at The Old Hill House, but she never spoke of them above her breath.
On the contrary, she had to watch carefully not to inadvertently admit to Marlborough Gardens that the financial standing of the Bradleys was not quite all the heart might have desired. Nancy had no particular sense of shame in the matter, she would have really enjoyed discussing finances with these new friends. But money, as money, was never mentioned. It flowed in a mysterious, and apparently inexhaustible stream through the hands of these young men and women, and while many of them knew acute anxiety concerning it, it was not the correct thing to speak of it. They had various reasons for doing, or not doing, various things. But money never influenced them. Oliver Rose kept a boat, kept a car and gave up his boat, took to golf and said he might sell his big car--but he seemed to be wasting, rather than saving, money, by these casual transfers. Mrs. Seward Smith said that her husband wanted her to go into town for the winter, but that it was a bore, and she hated big hotels. Mrs. Biggerstaff suggested lazily that they all wait until February and then go to Bermuda, and although they did not go, Nancy never heard anyone say that the holiday was too expensive. Everybody always had gowns and maids and dinners enough; there was no particular display. Old Mrs. Underhill indeed dressed with the quaint simplicity of a Quaker, and even gay little Mrs. Fielding, who had been divorced, and was a daughter of the railroad king, Lowell Lang, said that she hated Newport and Easthampton because the women dressed so much. She dressed more beautifully than any other women at Marlborough Gardens, but was quite unostentatious and informal.
Nancy's cheeks burned when she remembered something she had innocently said to Mrs. Fielding, in the early days of their acquaintance. The fare to the city was seventy cents, and Nancy commented with a sort of laughing protest upon the quickness with which her mileage books were exhausted, between the boys' dentist appointments, shopping trips, the trips twice a month that helped to keep Agnes and Dora happy, and the occasional dinner and theatre party she herself had with Bert.
"Besides that," she smiled ruefully, "There's the cab fare to the station, that wretched Kilroy charges fifty cents each way, even for Anne, and double after ten o'clock at night, so that it almost pays Mr. Bradley and myself to stay in town!"
"I never go in the train, I don't believe I've ever made the trip that way," said Mrs. Fielding pleasantly. And immediately she added, "Thorn has nothing to do, and it saves me any amount of fatigue, having him follow me about!"
"But what do you do with the car, if you stay in for the theatre?" Nancy asked, a day or two later, after she and Bert had made some calculations as to the expense of this.
"Oh, Thorn leaves it in some garage, there are lots of them. And he gets his dinner somewhere, and goes to a show himself, I suppose!" Mrs. Fielding said. Nancy made no answer, but when she and Bert were next held on a Fifth Avenue crossing, she spoke of it again. Hundreds of men and women younger than Nancy and Bert were sitting in that river of motor-cars--how easily for granted they seemed to feel them!
"Just as I am beginning to take my lovely husband and children, and my beautiful home for granted," Nancy said sensibly, giving herself a little shake. "We have too much now, and here I am wondering what it would be like to have a motor-car!"
And the next day she spoke carelessly at the club of the smaller bathhouses.
"This is a wonderful bath house of yours, Mrs. Ingram; but aren't there smaller ones?"
Mrs. Ingram, a distinguished-looking, plain woman of forty, with the pleasantest smile in the world, turned quickly from the big dressing room she had just engaged, and was inspecting.
"Yes, there are, Mrs. Bradley, they're in that little green row, right against the wall of the garages. We had to have them, you know, for the children, and a bachelor or two, who couldn't use a big one, and then of course the maids love to go in, in the mornings--my boys used one until last year, preferred it!"
And she smiled at the two tall boys in crumpled linen, who were testing the pegs and investigating the advantages of the room. Nancy had meant to be firm about that bathhouse, but she did not feel quite equal to it at this moment. She allowed her fancy to play for one delightful minute with the thought of a big dressing room; the one right next to Mrs. Ingram's, with the green awning!
"But twenty dollars a season is an outrageous rent for a bathhouse!" she said to Bert that night.
"Oh, I don't know," he said comfortably, "We've got the money. It amounts only to about five dollars a month, after all. I vote for the big one."
"Well, of course it'll be just the most glorious luxury that ever was," Nancy agreed happily. She loved the water, and Bert enjoyed nothing so much in the world as an hour's swimming with the children, but before that second summer was over they could not but see that their enthusiasm was unshared by the majority of their neighbours. The children all went in daily, at the stillwater, and the few young girls Marlborough Gardens boasted also went in, on Sundays, in marvellous costumes. At these times there was much picturesque grouping on the pier, and the float, and much low conversation between isolated couples, while flying soft hair was drying. Also the men of all ages went in, for perhaps ten minutes brisk overhand exercise, and came gasping out for showers and rough towelling.
But Nancy's women friends did not care for sea-bathing, and she came to feel that there was something just a trifle provincial in the open joyousness with which the five Bradleys gathered for their Sunday riot. If there was a morning tide they were comparatively unnoticed, although there were always a few boats going out, and few men on the tennis courts. But when the tide was high in the afternoon, even Bert admitted that it was "darned conspicuous" for the family to file across the vision of the women who were playing bridge on the porch, and for Anne to shriek over her water-wings and the boys to yell, as they inevitably did yell, "Gee--it's cold!"
Their real reason for more or less abandoning the habit was that there was so much else to do. Bert played golf, Nancy learned to score tennis as she watched it, and to avoid applause for errors, and to play excellent bridge for quarter-cent points. She went to two or three luncheons sometimes in a single week; and cold Sunday lunches, with much passing of beer and sharing of plates, were popular at Marlborough Gardens. Holly Court was especially suited to this sort of hospitality, and it was an easy sort to extend. Nancy sent the children off with Agnes, bribed her cook, bribed the laundress to wash all the table linen twice weekly, and on special occasions employed a large, efficient Swedish woman from the village for a day, or a week-end. "I'll get Christiana," was one of the phrases that fell frequently from Nancy's lips.